New Zealand government seeks to contain outrage over Pike River mine disaster


New Zealand government seeks to contain outrage over Pike River mine disaster

Tom Peters

6 January 2018

On January 31 New Zealand’s Labour Party-led government will formally establish the Pike River Recovery Agency. The new department is tasked with preparing a re-entry of the Pike River coal mine, on the South Island’s west coast, to recover the bodies of 29 men who died in an underground explosion in November 2010.

For years the victims’ families have demanded that the drift—the 2.3-kilometre tunnel leading into the main body of the mine—be re-entered to search for bodies and investigate the precise cause of the explosion. The former National Party government and state-owned mine company Solid Energy planned to permanently seal the mine’s entrance, but were forced to back down following months of protests by the families, who gained widespread support in the working class.

Overalls outside mine gate symbolising the 29 killed in the mine explosion

No one has been held accountable for the disaster, despite a Royal Commission finding in 2012 that it was entirely preventable and a court ruling against the bankrupt Pike River Coal. The company sacrificed workers’ safety, and ultimately their lives, by operating with no adequate emergency exit, faulty methane gas monitoring and inadequate ventilation.

The Labour-Greens-NZ First coalition government, which took office in October, is posturing as a friend of the Pike River families. It is undoubtedly concerned that continuing protests over the disaster could become a focal point for broader working-class opposition to poverty wages, dangerous working conditions, and a regulatory and judicial system rigged in favour of big business and the rich.

The courts, the Department of Labour (now WorkSafe) and the…

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